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Eating the noise

Din goes with dinner at restaurants, and proprietors are powerless

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From large groups of diners struggling to be heard to younger types looking to impress, noise levels in restaurants can rise quickly — and there's little restaurateurs can do about it.

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From large groups of diners struggling to be heard to younger types looking to impress, noise levels in restaurants can rise quickly — and there's little restaurateurs can do about it.

Rude, crude and noisy are three behaviours on the rise in Winnipeg restaurants.

And most people hate them all.

It all started long ago. I can testify to that personally. Listen up, kids.

I am about to award the grand prize for bad restaurant behaviour. When I was a young thing working at The Keg on Garry Street, a middle-aged couple came in and started to argue. Their server was growing tense, the fight was escalating -- and nearby diners could hear everything.

Saying, "Wish me luck," the waiter rushed their dinners out early. But a few seconds later, the woman stood up, reached over and slapped her husband across the face. The man stood up and slapped her right back. The whole restaurant section -- about eight tables of diners -- went silent and watched in horror. Then, to everyone's amazement, The Bickersons sat down and ate their dinners.

Everyone else broke out the Rolaids.

It was a tense dining experience for everyone within earshot.

Nicole Alexander, a Winnipeg foodie and former chef who has dined out from New York to Paris, says it doesn't surprise her the couple stayed to eat. "They're cheap and they're going to ride it out," she said. "But using a restaurant as a venue to stick it to someone in public is the worst thing you can do to a person, and I've seen and heard both sexes do it here in Winnipeg."

Behaviour as nasty as this is uncommon, but increasing noise levels are becoming a problem.

Restaurant noise levels depend on the time of day, Alexander notes. "For instance, the Tavern United behind the MTS Centre has a quiet crowd during the day. Right after work, people are chatting nicely and it's a relaxed atmosphere, kind of a hum. But when the sun starts going down, the college-age kids and gym rats arrive and it's testosterone city. They get really loud as they compete for attention and the girls."

But, she adds, "Winnipeg restaurants are actually tame compared to places like New York. Popular restaurants are expected to be super-noisy. If the noise level is chatty and exuberant once you get in, it's a good sign everyone's happy to be there and it will be guaranteed fun."

Miles Gould, owner of the Grove, formerly owned a bar and restaurant in England called the Milestone. He says Winnipeg is about on par with England for noise levels in eating and drinking establishments. At the Grove, he says, "It's a fine line. Sometimes it can be empty and too quiet and suddenly it's full and it's too noisy."

He says he's had to worry about acoustics a lot. "We cater to people 18 to 98. For instance, the 60-to-80-year-old crowd are here in the afternoon, people of parent age come for dinner from six to 10 p.m., and then the 18-to-30-year-olds are here from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. As soon as we get full, it's very loud, as it's all one room. Like yesterday, it was full and loud from 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., and there's nothing we can do about it."

The odd person complains, he says, but there's not much more he can do. "We already have special ceiling tiles. But if you put down carpet, it's not good for spills or smells."

Claudine Davidson, a French-English translator living in Winnipeg, says, "My biggest pet peeve is kids crying. It annoys the heck out of me. If your kid is not happy, take them out for a while. I did not have kids that behaved, so my husband or I would go out to the car with them and let them scream there." Davidson advises people who don't like noise to avoid fast-food places where kids go. "If we go somewhere and it's little bit pricier, like Joey's or Resto Gare, we don't expect noise. If you expect quietness at McDonald's, there's something wrong with you."

Gerry Atwell, a popular musician who plays in bars and restaurants most days of the week, confesses: "I'm sensitive to the noise level in restaurants. In some larger establishments, the din is so bad you can't carry on a conversation, and that's not even from the music. For instance, I was out for dinner in a restaurant in a very large booth and we couldn't hear each other just from the chatter in the rest of the restaurant. If I'm not playing or going especially to see an act, I will avoid those loud places. Proprietors have to determine whether they are gaining or losing business by it."

Luckily, musicians carry protection, he laughs. "Most professional musicians wear earplugs designed by audiology experts. Often I'll be out with musicians at regular restaurants, and they will pull out their plugs and put them in. You can buy cheap ones at drugstores, or go to anyplace they do hearing tests and get the other ones made for you."

 

Maureen Scurfield is a fan of great food and charming restaurant etiquette.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2013 A8

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